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UALR magazine

Spring/Summer 2008 • Vol. springsummer No. 2008

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Interconnecting Through Education

By Judy Williams

Assistant professor of anthropology, Krista Lewis, and anthropology major, Elizabeth Sanders of Hot Springs, participated in archeological excavation in Yemen.It’s not surprising that almost all Americans — 90 percent — believe it’s important to ensure that future generations have the skills and knowledge needed for a more interconnected world.

As world challenges loom — international terrorism, the war in Iraq, climate control, infectious diseases, energy sources, and economic turmoil — preparing students to live and work in a global society is essential.

While there is national debate among leaders in higher education, government, and economic circles about how best to approach global education, there is growing consensus that the country must ready students for a global society and economy.

“Every institution needs to pay attention to internationalization if it is to prepare students for the multicultural and global society of today and tomorrow,” said Madeleine F. Green, vice president of the American Council on Education’s (ACE) Center for International Initiatives.

David Ward, former ACE president, added, “Collaborative approaches which bring government, higher education, and private industry into partnership offer unique opportunities to develop solutions to such pressing concerns, and America’s colleges and universities are eager to be a part of these efforts.”

Dr. Michael Gealt, dean of UALR’s College of Science and Mathematics, offered context: “Our problems are too big to be limited to one little state.”

Many American colleges and universities are addressing global education in a variety of ways — worldview curriculum, collaborative research among international scientists and students, advanced information technology, immersed study abroad, and a global view of commercialization and market forces.

Three years ago, when UALR developed its new strategic plan, strengthening the university’s commitment to cultivating global awareness became an important objective in the plan.

UALR established an Office of International Services that oversees the International Student Services and the Study Abroad programs. This past year, the office provided assistance and support to about 300 UALR international students representing 60 countries. The Intensive English Language Program (IELP) helps students learn English as a second language.

IELP, full this summer, included 25 Rwandan students who were on the campus to hone their English language skills before pursuing their undergraduate degrees in America. Ten of the students, the largest contingent, remain at UALR to obtain degrees in math, science, engineering, and computer technology, while smaller contingents dispersed to Hendrix College, Philander Smith College, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Ouachita Baptist University, and Harding University in Arkansas, and Wofford College in South Carolina.

Their study abroad is part of a worldwide effort by the Rwandan government to rebuild its intellectual infrastructure that was decimated by a decade of war in the country. Following graduation, the students will return to their country to become the architects for rebuilding Rwanda as a result of the mass genocide.

Recruiting international students and faculty to the U.S. became difficult for higher education institutes following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, which resulted in heightened visa restrictions for faculty and students.

Entry has begun to ease, however, with the support of the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Education, sponsors of recent high-level visits to East Asia, South Asia, and South America to promote the value of education in the U.S.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s message to these countries: “America’s mission in this new century must be to welcome more foreign students to our nation.”

Last year, NAFSA: Association of International Educators estimated that 582,984 international students were enrolled in American colleges and universities, a 3 percent increase over the previous year. These students contributed approximately $14.5 billion to the U.S. economy during the academic year in tuition and living and miscellaneous expenses.

Foreign students attending public higher education institutions in Arkansas in 2006-2007 contributed an estimated $54 million to the state’s economy, including $4.4 million from UALR’s 275 international students who came primarily from India, China, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

“Vigorous efforts at the national, state and campus levels have combined to produce this rebounding of international student enrollments,” said Allan E. Goodman, president and CEO of the Institute of International Education. “Given increased global competition for talent, as well as expanded higher education options in many of the leading sending countries, America needs to continue its proactive steps to ensure that our academic doors remain wide open and students around the world understand that they will be warmly welcomed.”

UALR’s International and Second Language Studies department, which helps students become proficient in speaking, reading, and writing the languages they study, also helps them gain an understanding of the customs, practices, arts, and politics that shape the values and attitudes of native speakers of the language.

Its wireless Language Resource Center, complete with laptop computers, is a “smart” facility with multimedia technology to assist students in practicing listening and speaking skills and in viewing foreign films. Native speakers and foreign language majors staff the facility.

Each year, UALR students and faculty study abroad in countries such as Spain, Austria, France, Mexico, and China — an immersion in the language and culture.

The Institute of International Education reports that the number of American students studying abroad increased a record 8.7 percent in 2007 over the previous year. The number of U.S. students receiving academic credit for their study abroad has increased 150 percent in the past decade. In 2007, more than 223,500 American students were studying abroad as compared to 90,000 in 1995-1996.

While many study aboard programs in the past focused on learning the language of the country, many of today’s study abroad experiences involve a deeper immersion in the country’s culture, arts, and people. Research is often the focus of the study.

This summer, Dr. Krista Lewis, UALR sociology and anthropology professor, and student Elizabeth Sanders of Hot Springs excavated ruins in Yemen. Dr. Laura Ambein, art history professor, studied pre-Columbian cultures in Peru on a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Ivy Renfro, a student from Malvern, Ark., and Corey Bates, who transferred to Parkview Arts/Science Magnet High School in Little Rock from Kilgore, Texas, are spending two months taking Mandarin Chinese at Pingtung University of Education through the Taiwan-United States Sister Relations Alliance Summer Scholarship Program. In September, Renfro will travel to Graz, Austria, for a full semester of study.

“Studying abroad is often the most rewarding part of a student’s education,” said Dr. Jerry Stevenson, UALR associate vice chancellor of academic affairs. “It is frequently a life-transforming experience for the student who provides the essential tools of citizenship and leadership in the 21st century.”

Thanks to advanced technology, many students and faculty don’t have to leave campus for global experiences. Today’s technology allows students to take online courses around the world, do research at libraries across the globe, and attend lectures anywhere virtually. Campuses have been at the technological forefront of providing access and speed for their students and faculty.

UALR offers more online courses than any other public college or university in Arkansas. Last fall, 1,395 students from around the world were enrolled in the University’s web-based classes. Community colleges in Arkansas also tapped into UALR’s higher level mathematics and science courses via online courses.

The technology connectivity helps UALR students and professors participate in collaborative research anywhere in the world. Professor Rolf Wigand, UALR’s Maulden-Entergy Chair and Distinguished Professor of Information Science and Management, explores information science issues with contemporaries in New York, Pennsylvania, Germany, and The Netherlands.

The UALR research team of Dr. Jeffrey Gaffney, chemistry department chair, and Dr. Nancy A. Marley relies on connectivity in their three-year investigation of aerosols, tiny particles suspended in the air, and their role in climate change. The team’s $625,000 study is funded by the Department of Energy Atmospheric Science Program in collaboration with NASA and Mexican agencies.

Annually, ACE and the AT&T Foundation recognize the innovative use of technology to infuse an international dimension into curriculum and to promote international learning. The two organizations grant six $7,500 awards to target uses of technology that facilitate personal interaction between U.S. students and scholars and students and citizens of other countries and cultures.

Marguerite J. Dennis, vice president of Enrollment and International Programs at Suffolk University, predicts that technology capabilities will continue to encourage the rise of global universities collaborating regionally, nationally, and internationally.

She cites these other future trends in global education:

  • Study abroad programs will increase as students become more mobile and global in pursuing educational objectives.
  • No one country will dominate the international student market as students migrate to new international destinations based on price, visa eligibility, and other factors.
  • Chinese and Indian student enrollments will increase and dominate student enrollments.
  • International higher education, now a $300 billion industry, will continue to grow as a big business.
  • There will be an increase in alternative delivery systems, including the creation of foreign campuses and partnerships with international universities for joint degree programs.

Since 1999, NAFSA: Association of International of Educators has been advocating for the establishment of a U.S. international education policy. The organization has nearly 10,000 members from all 50 states and more than 150 countries, the majority of whom are on college and university campuses working as foreign student advisers, admissions officers, study abroad advisers, directors of international programs, and teachers of English as a second language.

“The nation faces important economic, security, and public diplomacy challenges, and our next president, regardless of party affiliation, would be wise to take into account the important contribution international education can make in helping address those challenges,” said Marlene Johnson, NASFA executive director and CEO.